Revaluations and Capital Gains in the Context of Natural Resource Accounting
Tension exists between national accounting practice (in which capital gains are not counted as part of national income), and the theory of national income definition and interpretation (in which capital gains are often argued to be a component of national income). Much of this theoretical work arises in the context of research into natural resource accounting, where capital gains arise endogenously as natural assets are depleted. In this paper, the appropriate treatment of capital gains in a variety of circumstances is presented. I argue that views on the inclusion (or not) of capital gains are contingent on the underlying interpretation being applied to national income. Capital gains matter when income is interpreted in sustainability terms, rather than in its traditional guise as a measure of the value of output. Even when income is given a sustainability-related interpretation, different views on gains arise from different presumptions regarding the type of gain (the source of the asset price change). Further disagreements in the literature are shown to turn on the time perspective adopted by the individual analyst. The measurement of capital gains varies with the adoption of a present-value versus a current-value perspective. Using this insight, I resolve a number of conflicting claims in the literature. I also raise the neglected issue of revaluations arising from obsolescence, something hitherto neglected in the context of natural resource accounting.
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